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Relentless rise in cotton prices a hurdle to textile exports revival.

Date: 24-02-2022
Subject: Relentless rise in cotton prices a hurdle to textile exports revival
If India’s exports of textiles and garments recovered quickly this fiscal from the lows of the pandemic-hit FY22, lucrative orders may elude them in FY23 due to an inexorable rise in the prices of cotton, a key raw material, and its yawning shortage in the domestic market. While shipments continue to be strong due to orders won earlier, the spectre of a slump in exports is staring at textile and garment firms as new orders are hard to come by. This is at a time when the global markets are vibrant and poised to remain so in the near term, thanks to industrial resurgence in key markets like the US and European Union.

Conventionally, during the January-February period, mandi arrivals of cotton peak and remain in the range of Rs 2.5-3 lakh bales (one bale is 170 kg), but this year has been quite an exception. According to trade sources, cotton arrivals in markets across key producing states – Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan – have seldom crossed Rs 1.5 lakh bales in last the two months. And prices are skyrocketing – in many key markets these are ruling at three times the minimum support price – given the estimate an year-on-year decline in the production of the key natural fibre. There are also unconfirmed reports of farmers resorting to hoarding stocks, in anticipation of a further rise in prices.

In fact, an up to 80% spurt in cotton prices in the past one year has pressured margins of textile and garment firms. Most firms are struggling to pass on the rise in raw material costs to consumers. Yet, India’s exports of textiles, garments and allied products jumped 52% until December this fiscal from a year before to $31 billion, albeit on a sharply-contracted base.

This has forced the manufacturers across the textile value chain – from spinning mils and weaving units to garment makers –to seek the abolition of an import duty on cotton (effectively to the tune of 11%, including cesses) and the creation of a strategic reserve of about 10-15% of market supplies by the government to help stabilise prices.

RS Jalan, managing director at GHCL Ltd, told FE that while high cotton prices will help farmers and somewhat boost rural disposable income, from the textile industry’s perspective, they have created a challenge for the entire value chain as “it is difficult to pass on the cost to the consumer”. “Also, the duty imposed on imported cotton is making India non-competitive in the global markets, which will surely be counter-intuitive in the long run,” Jalan said.

Narendra Goenka, managing director of Texport Industries and chairman of the state-backed Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC), apprehended that it would be difficult to maintain a high export growth rate in the next fiscal. “Overseas buyers have started scouting for alternate destinations to broaden their supply base for fear that elevated input costs in India would push up prices of garments,” he said. Apparel companies, in such a scenario, may be forced to absorb much of the rise in costs themselves, he added.

Raja M Shanmugham, managing director of Warshaw International and president of the Tirupur Exporters’ Association, said the relentless rise in cotton prices over the past 15 months has made it difficult for companies to honour orders, typically booked 3-6 months before, without taking a massive hit on their balance sheets. “We are also finding it difficult to change the price tags of products so frequently. Our cash flow has been hit very badly. Moreover, the garment industry is dominated by MSMEs, whose capacity to absorb inputs cost pressure is even more limited. So, we are requesting finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman to raise the individual loan limit under the Rs 4.5-lakh-crore guaranteed loan scheme by up to 20% to help the MSMEs cope with their liquidity issue,” Shanmugham said.

According to second advance estimates of cotton production by the ministry of agriculture, the country’s cotton output is estimated to decline by more than 3% to 34 million bales in the 2021-22 crop year from 35 million bales in the previous year.

“Cotton prices had first crossed the Rs 9,200 per quintal during Diwali itself and in the next few months the prices crossed Rs 10,000 per quintal mark,” Manish Daga who runs `CottonGuru’ a cotton advisory firm, said.

Anand Poppat, a cotton trader based out of Rajkot says that the while market arrivals are low, there is an increasing trend of traders directly picking up raw cotton from farmers as they save on mandi taxes, transport and labour charges.

Most garment exporting units are MSMEs which are labour-intensive and vulnerable to several external factors.

Rising raw material costs have also created inter-segmental conflicts in the industry. “There is a continuous spike in cotton yarn prices. The government should step in to bring stability to raw material prices,” said Raja M. Shanmugham, president, The Tirupur Exporters’ Association (TEA), which represents the garment units in the industrial township.

India’s cotton prices are also impacted by global supply situations. International cotton prices have risen to 120 cents per pound in the 2021-22 cotton season (October-September) as against 85 cents per pound in the previous season since the crop size in USA and other markets has reduced.

Pradeep Kumar Agrawal, chairman and managing director of Cotton Corporation of India (CCI), the agency which procured 95 lakh bales in 2019-20 and 105 lakh bales in 2020-21 at MSP, says that the agency has not had to intervene in the market this year as prices remained above the MSP levels.

Seeking the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come to the rescue of the labour-intensive industry, T Rajkumar, director of Sakthi Group and chairman of the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry, has asserted that the removal of the import duty on cotton won’t hurt farmers. This is because the industry has been predominantly importing speciality cotton, including extra-long staple cotton, to meet the needs of certain niche segments of buyers on a long-term basis, he added.

Spot prices of cotton were in the range of Rs 15,000–Rs 15,400 a quintal as against the minimum support prices of Rs 5,726/quintal (medium variety) and Rs 6,025/quintal (long staple). The price of ICS-105 variety of cotton in largest producing state of Gujarat were ruling at Rs 77,000 per candy of 356 kg each, up as much as 70% from a year earlier, according to the Cotton Association of India data. In case of some other varieties, the rise is about 80% over the past year.

Cotton ginners are also bearing the brunt of rise in prices of the fibre. “It has become difficult for ginning units to run business, says Pradeep Jain, president, Khandesh Gin/Press Factory Owners Association. Maharashtra has around 800-1000 ginning units that are currently running at 50-60% capacity and many of these may have to shut down soon, BS Rajpal, president, Maharashtra Cotton Ginners Association said.


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